Team Hollendorfer is nothing if not confident.
When a trainer has 6,568 victories and counting in a Hall of Fame career that ranks him third all-time behind Dale Baird and Steve Asmussen, a touch of braggadocio is certainly within reason.
Through the first 14 days of Santa Anita’s meet, Hollendorfer has won 13 races from only 32 starts, 41 percent, putting him two in front of 11-time Santa Anita training king Bob Baffert, who has sent out 33 runners. Hollendorfer won with both his starters Thursday.
In the words of Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
While he won every training title in the Bay Area during a 12-year span from 1986 to May 2008, including 32 straight at Golden Gate and 37 in a row at Bay Meadows, Hollendorfer has never won a crown in Southern California. But he has only been a presence on the circuit “for five or six years.” This could be the meet. He is making up for lost time.
“Get used to it,” said Dan Ward, Hollendorfer’s trusted assistant, expressing self-assurance consistent with Team Hollendorfer’s record.
With an abundance of runners that includes a Who’s Who of local stakes campaigners, including unbeaten Kentucky Derby Future Book contender Shared Belief, Ward has every right to express optimism, even in the face of Midnight Hawk’s daylight win in Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes, which could lead to a possible future showdown between the two.
“I didn’t see anything in the Sham that scared me, even a little bit,” Ward said. “The last eighth, that horse (Midnight Hawk) was lookin’ for a bleeping taxi to get him home. He went in 13 and one (fifth). You could have timed him with a sun dial.”
Baffert pooh-poohs that by pointing out that the Sham was “a match race,” and that Shared Belief has never won on dirt.
Hollendorfer, forced to move his main base of operations to Santa Anita upon the closing of the Inglewood track Dec. 22, has made the transition from synthetic to dirt without so much as a hiccup.
“Our horses had been training at Hollywood Park, but they are better here, sounder here,” Ward said. “We couldn’t be happier.”
Added Hollendorfer on his transition from “owning” the Northern California circuit to becoming a force in Southern California: “It takes a long time to learn the ropes and to build up a stable, so we’ve been very patient in that regard, and we’re doing pretty well right now, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
Midnight Hawk vs. Shared Belief in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 would be a PR man’s dream. Maybe it wouldn’t be The Thrilla in Manila, but with Shared Belief the likely favorite, it could be billed as The Hawk vs. The Chalk.
The two leading 3-year-olds on the West Coast, both Midnight Hawk and Shared Belief currently are unbeaten, both are trained by members of racing’s Hall of Fame, each is bred to the purple, Midnight Hawk by the mighty young stallion and two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Midnight Lute, whose sire was 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, and Shared Belief by Candy Ride, out of the Storm Cat dam Common Hope.
There are enough storylines to satisfy Col. Parker.
But, the Santa Anita Derby is light years away in horse time.
Meanwhile, Baffert and Hollendorfer are set to square off in Santa Anita’s two Grade II stakes this weekend, Saturday’s Strub Stakes and Sunday’s La Canada.
Baffert has Govenor Charlie and Malibu winner Shakin It Up entered in the Strub, while Hollendorfer has Hear the Ghost and Zeewat.
In the La Canada, Baffert entered Fiftyshadesofhay and Ondine, while Hollendorfer entered Broken Sword and Let Faith Rise.
The field for the Strub: Dice Flavor, Jose Valdivia Jr., 15-1; Rookie Sensation, Victor Espinoza, 6-1; Shakin It Up, Mike Smith, 7-2; Zeewat, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; Govenor Charlie, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Hear the Ghost, Corey Nakatani; Heir of Storm, Joe Talamo, 4-1; and Say Ow, Tyler Baze, 20-1.
The field for the La Canada: Let Faith Arise, Corey Nakatani, 12-1; Ondine, Martin Garcia, 4-1; Oscar Party, Joe Talamo, 8-1; Fiftyshadesofhay, Mike Smith, 8-5; Broken Sword, Rafael Bejarano, 7-5; Spellbound, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; and Rathbaun, Tyler Baze, 15-1.